Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Chickens and Latin

with 20 comments

Chickens pecking at feed

Image via Wikipedia

Eggs came first. So that question is settled once and for all.

Here come the chickens:

When my brain is in chatty-magazine-reading mode I don’t really want to have my Latin tested.

Here’s the offending sentence;  it’s from Grow Your Own magazine, no less. Note how it lulls you into a false sense of security with its casual, colloquial heading:

Top Nosh

A good quality proprietary mash or pellets fed ad lib will provide all the protein your birds need.

Ad lib? What’s that doing there? It’s even italicised in the original, just to make double sure you trip over it and spill your cocoa.

The common understanding of ‘ad lib’ is to do something off the cuff or without rehearsal (as in the common expressions ‘he’s ad libbing’ or ‘she ad libbed’).

Grow Your Own magazine is not growing on me at all as I am now irritated into consulting my dictionary. I find that  ‘ad lib’  (from the Latin ad libitum) can also be used to mean ‘as much and as often as desired’. I can sort of guess that from the context in the Grow Your Own piece, but that’s not the point. Why not just write ‘fed liberally’ or similar?

When I finally get back to the magazine, I find the next sentence begins:

Do not be tempted to skimp on the food as your flock will regulate what they need…

So, to add insult to injury, ‘fed ad lib’ is anyway redundant.

Foreign words and phrases have their place. That place is not in a chatty mag where they are de trop. See what I mean? Annoying, isn’t it.

Find out more about using foreign words and phrases

Read a lovely post about Latin on The Squirrelbasket blog


20 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. In the eighties the Guardian would be liberally sprinkled with words, and even phrases, in French, for no better reason than that they could, which is the case here, I suspect.


    29/10/2010 at 5:49 pm

    • Hi, Ron — that’s exactly right: ‘for no better reason than that they could’. As ever, Orwell hit the nail on the head: Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

      He also said something about not using clichés (example: ‘hit the nail on the head’), but I’ll gloss over that. Even though it was number one on his list of six writing rules.


      29/10/2010 at 6:02 pm

      • Hi Deborah,

        Someone – Stephen King or James Thurber, pretty sure it was one or the other, writing about – er – writing, said one should never use a $10 word when several 50-cent words would get the job done (I might have paraphrased very slightly). Something I always try to abide by.

        I’m leaning towards Thurber, as my memory of it, I’m sure, goes back way before King.


        29/10/2010 at 6:14 pm

        • And I’m pretty sure I’ve already said that on one of your posts, come to think of it . . .


          29/10/2010 at 6:17 pm

          • No — I don’t think you’ve said that before, Ron. I’m sure Orwell would agree with the sentiment.


            29/10/2010 at 6:26 pm

        • Ha! Turns out Orwell felt the same way with his rule 2 “Never use a long word where a short one will do”.


          29/10/2010 at 6:29 pm

  2. I’d strike “fed ad lib.” While I’m striking things, I’d strike “quality.”

    Michael Farrell

    29/10/2010 at 6:14 pm

    • Hi, Michael — and while we’re striking, how about:

      Proprietary mash or pellets will provide all the protein your birds need.


      Don’t skimp on the food as your flock will regulate what they need…


      29/10/2010 at 6:30 pm

  3. “A good quality proprietary mash or pellets fed ad lib will provide all the protein your birds need. Do not be tempted to skimp on the food as your flock will regulate what they need…”

    A good mash or pellets given to your chickens liberally will provide all the protein the birds need. Don’t worry about overfeeding; the chickens will only eat what they need.
    Or something.
    Ilike throwing in big words or foreign words sometimes just to say “See, I’m smart. Look at me!”
    Great post!


    29/10/2010 at 7:24 pm

    • Hi, Lisa — I wish you were working at Grow Your Own magazine — it would have saved me a lot of irritation. And kept my blood pressure at a safe level. You’re so right about people wishing to appear smart. Thanks, as ever, for taking the time to comment here.


      29/10/2010 at 8:35 pm

  4. Moving from a focus on the language to chickens themselves, here’s what we’ve learned from caring for a small flock: They’ll eat pretty much any damn thing that ends up in front of them! Why try to pretty it up?

    Maggie Manning

    29/10/2010 at 8:13 pm

    • Hi, Maggie — how nice to see you again! Funnily enough, I’m no chicken expert but I did wonder about that very thing. Five rescue chickens live near here and I don’t see much ‘proprietary’ food being given to them — and they couldn’t be any healthier. (Lovely eggs.)


      29/10/2010 at 8:40 pm

      • Just ask the proprietary of your local feed store what he or she recommends.

        Michael Farrell

        29/10/2010 at 11:07 pm

      • Hmm… I’ve always wondered about free-range organic chickens. As chickens will eat – apart from provided feed – pretty much anything small enough that crawls, or flutters across their path, how many random bugs, that could come from anywhere, especially if they fly in, does it take before they stop being organic?

        Or is that conveniently ignored?


        30/10/2010 at 12:11 am

        • Hi, Ron — yes, I agree. I am very suspicious of all claims that are made about so-called ‘organic’ food items.


          30/10/2010 at 7:35 am

          • I once – camped, one evening, on a backpacking trip around the Peak District – spent a half-hour hand-feeding a huge, flamboyant, cockerel bits of pork pie and mushy peas. Don’t think that was very organic.


            30/10/2010 at 3:49 pm

  5. From The Independent:

    Together Gable and Moricone achieved a thrilling theatrical experience, taut and passionate, with a compellingly raw verismo.

    Verismo. That would be ‘realism’, I expect.


    10/02/2011 at 11:10 am

  6. I guess if you can have magical realism, you also can have compellingly raw realism. Now please excuse me, because I’m compellingly hungry.

    Michael Farrell

    10/02/2011 at 2:46 pm

    • … or magically compelling raw realism. Or compellingly raw magical realism. Or raw realism at its most magically compelling. I shoulda been an art critic.


      10/02/2011 at 2:50 pm

Your questions and comments are welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: